Lawyers for Liberty are appalled by Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary’s statement that the government intends to deal out heavier punishments against the LGBT community by increasing the sentencing limits in the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
In a time when the country is in crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is disappointing that the deputy minister chooses to focus on the vilification of the LGBT community, which is nothing more than a tired and cheap political ploy to detract from the real issues currently affecting Malaysian citizens.
This is especially more obvious when we consider the fact that Malaysian Muslims are still in a state of shock and confusion by the 40-year long halal meat cartel scandal that was exposed quite recently; yet the spotlight is again cast on LGBT instead.
The deputy minister was unclear on how heavier punishments would address the supposed “wrongdoings” committed by the LGBT community.
What is clear is that this is targeted harassment by the government, which intends to invade and harass the rights and privacy of alleged LGBT Muslims, causing them undue hardship.
This would be in clear violation of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution as LGBT Muslims are entitled to equality before the law and therefore deserve protection from laws that target them solely due to their sexual orientation.
We also condemn the deputy minister’s admission that religious enforcers have also taken stern action against those who cross-dress, which indicates the enforcers have been instructed to target transgender Muslims specifically. Again, the government is wilfully breaching Article 8, which expressly forbids any discrimination on the basis of an individual’s gender.
We urge the government not to take such a restrictive view of Islamic law and follow the footsteps of other Muslim majority countries that have already recognised the legitimate rights of the transgender community. Egypt and Iran have issued fatwas since the 1980s that allow gender reassignment surgeries, and even Pakistan has enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2018, which is a formal recognition of transgender rights in Pakistan.
It is obvious therefore that the recognition and protection of the transgender community is not contrary to the precepts of Islam and is in fact mandatory under our Federal Constitution.
We strongly advise the authorities to not resort to periodically using the LGBT community as a convenient punching bag to create the illusion of rectitude and false piety in certain political parties that comprise the government. The vilification of the LGBT/transgender community serves to help no one, and will only harm the very citizens that it is supposed to protect.
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty